I have admired the voice of Gundula Janowitz ever since I heard
her in the soprano part of Carmina Burana in Karl Böhm’s
DG recording, back in the early 1970s. That was made soon after
she had first burst onto the international scene, in her early
thirties. These Strauss songs were recorded towards the end of
her career (her ‘official’ farewell was in 1990), yet the fundamental
qualities of her voice remained largely undiminished – a smoothness
throughout the registers, a youthful freshness both of tone and
of style, and, above all, a radiantly thrilling high register.
last quality suits Richard Strauss down to the ground, and she
made one of the most renowned of all recordings of the Four
Last Songs with Karajan in the 1970s. You can expect the
same standards and the same beauties here. It is greatly to
the credit of Richard Stamp and his Academy of London that the
orchestral accompaniment – as important as the voice part in
these songs – is on a par with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.
they are such very wonderful songs; at least three of the ones
here are easily as great as those Four Last Songs – I
would unhesitatingly nominate Ruhe meine Seele, Morgen and
Befreit in that regard. The first of these, which opens
the recital, is particularly interesting. Strauss composed it
way back in the 1890s for his wife Pauline, herself a fine soprano,
with piano accompaniment. Yet, nearly fifty years later, in
the terrible days following the end of World War 2, he paused
in the middle of composing the Four Last Songs in order
to orchestrate this earlier work. The reason he did so is simple
and poignant - though the liner-notes do not point out this
salient fact; that day, Strauss’s name had been cleared by the
de-Nazification tribunal. He turned to the early song, whose
words mean ‘Rest, my Soul’, to express his thanksgiving and,
it must be said, his profound relief.
voice is inherently light; do not expect the weight and intensity
of a Schwarzkopf or a Norman. But her relatively uncomplicated,
‘classical’ approach, brings dividends of its own in terms of
clarity of expression and phrasing. And then, there is the sheer
elation of that extraordinary, golden high register – supreme!
final track is no mere ‘filler’, for it contains one of Strauss’s
late masterpieces. The Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings
is his dirge for lost Germany, inspired, if that’s the word,
by walking among the post-war ruins of the Munich Opera House,
one of Europe’s most famously beautiful buildings, and a venue
where his career had taken some of its first sensational steps.
It is a savagely difficult work, a nearly half-hour Adagio of
incredible intensity. I have an early Furtwängler live recording,
where the Berlin Philharmonic strings are completely lost and
at sea for thirty bars or so! Nothing like that here, happily.
A meticulously prepared performance, yet full of feeling, and
achieving the essential sense of devastation in the coda, where
Strauss dredges up, almost inaudibly, the funeral march theme
from the Eroica Symphony.
is a wonderful disc, though it has to be acknowledged that it
enters one of the more competitive fields in the catalogue.
Both the songs and Metamorphosen have been blessed by
many great recordings. But Janowitz’s voice is truly in a class
of its own, one of a kind, and I would urge Strauss lovers and
lovers of the soprano voice not to miss the opportunity to hear